Differences in Attitudes

Ken Mcleod is a retired air traffic controller and all-round stirrer. In 2009, he lodged a complaint to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission against the Australian Vaccination Network. Ruling on this complaint is pending.

Najla Angela Ghalbouni Dimech’s Facebook post where she said “I thought the vaccines go through vigorous testing before we inject children,” got me thinking. She was implying that vaccines are dangerous because product surveillance had detected a problem in one of them. Of course vaccines go through an extensive testing process before introduction, and continue to do so afterwards. So why is it that when continuous product surveillance reveals a need for action in one industry, (pharmaceuticals), that is a cause for worry, but when continuous product surveillance reveals a need for action in another industry, (aviation), that is welcomed as standard operating procedure, no less.

I am often intrigued by the difference in attitudes to the pharmaceutical industry and attitudes to my industry, aviation. People are quite content to board a Boeing 747 and fly around the world to Paris. They put their complete trust in the crew, the engineers, the air traffic controllers, the people who designed and built the plane, and so on. They never go through the blueprints before buying the ticket. I very rarely see criticism of the people involved, the science and engineering, the continuous research and development and product surveillance and improvement.

In my many years in the aviation industry, I never saw the aviation equivalent of Meryl Dorey marching up to the cockpit to lecture the pilots on EPR settings, nor blogging about how Boeing don’t understand the science behind hydraulic pressure requirements in elevator screw jack assemblies. Yes, I did see criticism of the aviation industry’s contribution to noise and CO2 pollution, fair enough, but I never saw armchair experts form lobby groups to tell Boeing how to build their planes better, or to warn travellers to avoid flying machines or face death.

On the other hand, I see no end of criticism of doctors and researchers, the companies who research and develop vaccines, and the science and technology of the vaccine industry. So many people think themselves to be experts whose opinions are supposed to be of equal value to those of Nobel Prize winners. They form lobby groups of self-appointed ‘experts’ and lobby politicians, the media, doctors and, more importantly, parents, to denigrate vaccines and the mainstream health industry.

When you next board a Boeing 747, rest assured that Boeing has continued to research the science and engineering involved in building this magnificent machine, 40 years after it entered service. Yes, occasionally problems are found with components, the matter is researched and improvements are introduced without fuss. Hardly a day goes by without Boeing issuing engineering instructions to its customers. This is not taken by those involved as a failure of the design and manufacture, but it is taken as a recognition that all human activities are flawed and so diligent attention must be paid to detecting and correcting problems and improving the product so that the best possible product goes to market.

Exactly the same process goes on within the pharmaceutical industry, but without the jet-setting glamour. Behind the scenes, research and dvelopment continues, with the aim of detecting problems and improving the product. This is not taken by those involved as a failure of the design and manufacture, but it is taken as a recognition that all human activities are flawed and so diligent attention must be paid to detecting and correcting problems and improving the product, so that the best possible product goes to market.

So why is it that one industry has the confidence of the public, even the adoration, but the other seems to attract so much contempt?  Why does one industry have a customer base that has faith in it, and the other has a customer base in which so many people are armchair experts ready to use any perceived flaw to “prove” that the whole industry is a con and a diabolical conspiracy?

Why are anti-vaxxers so ready to pronounce themselves experts on vaccination, and at the same time ready to board a Boeing 747 and flit off to Paris never claiming any expertise in how it is done, nor criticise the people who take them there so safely? Why is one branch of science adored and another branch of science abhorred?

Why is that?